October 15, 2012

Inspiration and Learning at the NARGS Study Weekend


JOSEPH TYCHONIEVICH, MANAGER OF ARROWHEAD ALPINES BROUGHT A TRUCK LOAD OF RARE PLANTS TO SELL. JOE IS ALSO AN AUTHOR HIS SOON-TO-BE-PUBLISHED BOOK ON BREEDING YOUR OWN PLANTS CALLED DO-IT-YOURSELF-PLANT BREEDING ( MARCH 2013/WORKMAN/ TIMBER PRESS), CHATS AND LAUGHS WITH ATTENDEES.



If you are a serious gardener, you know that finding inspiration and new ideas becomes more and more challenging as you gain knowledge. One of my most favorite ways to not only become inspired but to learn new things is to attend a study weekend, the two unique meetings held each year, one in the west, and one in the east, sponsored by the North American Rock Garden Society ( NARGS), but if you are imagining that NARGS is all about rock gardens and alpine plants, think again. Most members are knowledgeable -true, most members are experienced -true, but most members are plant people - often growing much more than just alpine plants.


SOME OF THE TREATS OFFERED AT THE VENDOR TABLES. THESE ARE FROM ARROWHEAD ALPINES .


Each year, there are two Study Weekends, generally, one hosted by an eastern chapter, and one hosted by a western chapter in North America. They have been held in places like Newfoundland, Portland, Massachusetts, Victoria B.C., New York City, and Colorado. Each venue offers talks, hikes, plant sales by select growers and more. The term 'Study Weekend' is a bit of a misnomer.  Simply said, these are events where there are talks scheduled for both the morning and afternoon, often two each, plus breaks for buying plants from the vendors who are invited ( they stop selling while the talks are on, then they rush back to their tables when each talk ends, since attendees are motivated to snatch up every rare hellebore that they just saw in a presentation by a hellebore collector! That's one of best reasons for attending!. These weekends also about about socializing. Meeting other plant people who are passionate about plants, but there are people of all levels here. Beginners who are curious, as well as experts, who love nothing better than meeting people who are passionate beginners! And why wouldn't they?




THE HOST CHAPTER OF NARGS, THE ALLEGHENY CHAPTER, SHOWED US THEIR ROCK GARDEN THAT THEY BUILT ON THE PROPERTY OF THE NATIONAL AVIARY IN DOWNTOWN PITTSBURGH.



This years' theme for the NARGS Eastern Study Weekend focused on fall- blooming plants, alpines,succulents, bulbs and perennials that offer autumnal displays, as well as talks on native ferns ( a very inspiring presentation about the hundreds -yes, hundreds of naive ferns to the eastern US), as well as an inspiring talk by author Gwen Moore, author of the book SUCCULENTS. There were talks and slide shows by experts about miniature shrubs, alpine troughs, Saxifrages, Native Ferns, Autumnal Bulbs ( my talk) and much more. Regardless of ones interest level, you are guaranteed to be sucked in to each talk - leaving with a notebook full of "must-get" plants and helpful hints and ideas.

I've attended many conferences, there are garden writer conferences, and there is significant difference between NARGS events and any other conference - NARGS study Weekends are not commercial. This means no bullshit. No junk, and no common plants,. There are no big brands - instead, you will find plants grown by the experts. If the even is held near a well known explorer who has introduced most of the Epimedium species known in the trade today, they will be there, sometimes offering an even rarer yet-to-be-named species in a pot to the silent auction table. These are the sort of things will will find. Only the best of the best - and although this means that there might only be 7 vendors, you are guaranteed that a team of people sweated over who could attend to sell, as who will not.


BLACKBERRY LILIES SHOW OFF THEIR AMAZING SEEDS IN THE GARDENS OUTSIDE OF THE PHIPPS CONSERVATORY.


In many ways, these events will only present the Nobel Peace Prize growers of specialty plants. There have been experts  in evergreens, rare trees, wild collected seed, alpine plants, bulbs, ferns, wild flowers, carnivorous plants and more at these events.  Each Study Weekend offers a different selection, so I try to attend each one. If you are a little curious, check out the NARGS website and consider joining, and don't be intimidated, you will be pleasantly surprised at who actually attends. Much like a cruise, I sat at a table with an plant explorer who just returned from Nepal, a woman who like to grow narcissus, a nursery manager who specialized in alpine plants, and three guys who just like plants, and wanted to grow more. Later in the bar, I ended up having a few brews with two noted authors, a college student, two retired women who like begonias but who also like to hike in the mountains.


MY ENTRY IN THE TROUGH CONTEST. SINCE I WAS ASKED TO SPEAK ABOUT FALL AND WINTER BULBS, I CREATED A TROUGH FEATURING SOME OF THE BEST. ( I WON A BLUE RIBBON, WHICH WAS NICE, PLUS A FEW BUCKS TO BUY MORE PLANTS! I CAME HOME WITH SOME NICE TRILLIUM SPECIES.



In addition to plant sales, meeting like-minded gardeners and attending talks, tours to local gardens and sites, often there are hikes if the event is held near the mountains or trips to botanic gardens or woodlands, and there are often plant shows where members can bring and enter interesting plants ( this year there was an alpine trough competition). There are also auctions of incredibly interesting plant-related materials, raffles, rare and old book sales, book signings and of course, cocktail parties and a dinner. The audience is often small, a couple of hundred attendees, which I think is because many people feel intimidated and simply don't attend, which is silly. I had a few blog followers call the Allegheny Chapter of NARGS to see if the could attend my talk, and they were more than welcomed in - offered to attend the banquet, and they not only left with carloads of rare and interesting plants found no where else, they joined NARGS, sharing with me that they had no idea how much they learned, and how much fun they had.
A FIELD TRIP TO THE PHIPPS CONSERVATORY AND BOTANIC GARDENS WAS A POPULAR EVENT.


NARGS MEMBER MICHAEL RILEY WON THE GRAND PRIZE WITH HIS TROUGH - THE BEST PART? HE GROWS THESE ON HIS ROOFTOP IN NEW YORK CITY!




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